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Port of St. Helens gets green light for new meeting building

Photo Credit: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia City Planning Commissioners Dennis Capik, Shelly Sandford and Mark Worral listen to building specifications for a proposed 2,000 square-foot meeting building. The construction application was submitted by the Port of St. Helens, to replace the port's current meeting room.

Columbia City planning commissioners approved site plans Wednesday for a nearly 2,000 square-foot meeting room at the Port of St. Helens office site.

The seven-member commission approved the development plans by a vote of five in favor, with Commission Chair Laurie Faulk and Commissioner Larry Preston absent.

With recent meetings at the port’s office that have filled the small space beyond capacity, port staff and commissioners started looking at options for a bigger building.

“I went to their conference room and their conference room would end right there,” Lisa Smith, a planner for Columbia City, said, pointing to an area about 5 feet from the commission’s meeting tables.

“I understood immediately, the need for a different kind of meeting room, more like we have here,” Smith said.

The new building would be built immediately adjacent to the port’s existing office. The land is currently zoned for industrial use.

Scott Jensen, a planner with the port, told the commission Wednesday evening, Nov. 12, that his agency considered expanding its current office building, but it didn’t work out logistically and would cost nearly as much as a new building.

“It gets kind of expensive and at some point it makes more sense to just build a new building that fits all your needs,” Jensen said.

As planned, the new site will include a meeting room that can accommodate 100 people and offer 42 parking spaces, commissioners said. The site currently has 23 parking spaces.

“That just concerns me,” Vice Chair Barbara Gordon said. “It seems like the port’s had some pretty busy meetings. What happens if 100 people show up to a meeting?”

“The same thing that would happen if 100 people showed up here,” Smith replied.

“They just park all over,” Gordon confirmed.

Preston wasn’t present Wednesday, but he submitted comments saying he supported the approval of the building, but only if the port makes improvements to surrounding streets.

Columbia City’s administrator, Leahynette Rivers, said the port will sign a waiver of remonstrance, meaning it will be asked to contribute to street improvements when the city is ready to make those infrastructure upgrades.

Last month, Patrick Trapp, the port’s executive director, said early cost estimates indicate the new building could cost $300,000 to $400,000.